CLAIM

“Vaccines cause autoimmune disease”; COVID-19 vaccine will “change your genes”; aborted fetal tissue is in vaccines

DETAILS

Inaccurate: The COVID-19 vaccines cannot change our DNA. Vaccines don’t contain aborted fetal tissue or animal cells.
Unsupported: Studies so far haven’t found a higher incidence of autoimmune diseases in vaccinated people compared to unvaccinated people. Current data available from clinical trials and ongoing vaccination campaigns also didn’t show a higher incidence of Bell’s palsy in people who had received the COVID-19 vaccines.

KEY TAKE AWAY

Autoimmune diseases are the result of a person’s immune system wrongly attacking the person’s own cells. Research has indicated genetics and environmental factors, such as certain viral infections like the flu, can make a person more likely to develop an autoimmune disease. Numerous studies examining a potential association between vaccination and autoimmune diseases didn’t find a higher incidence of autoimmune diseases in vaccinated people compared to unvaccinated people.

FULL CLAIM: “Vaccines cause autoimmune disease”; “the COVID-19 vaccine [...] which has already been shown to cause Bell’s palsy, it’s already causing major problems in people that have allergies [...] someone with an allergy that is somewhat of an autoimmune response already”; COVID-19 vaccine will “change your genes”; “when you put aborted fetal tissue in your kid, and you put chicken egg embryo [...], and you put pig cells and monkey cells - when you put other beings’ DNA into you, that’s called a foreign invader and if you think that’s not going to cause an autoimmune disease or some weird reaction, you have another thing coming.”

REVIEW

A Facebook video published by chiropractor Steven Baker on 5 March 2021, claimed that vaccines are responsible for autoimmune diseases. The video received more than 10,000 interactions and more than 80,000 views on Facebook, according to social media analytics tool CrowdTangle. Baker previously published misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines, as reported in this Health Feedback review. Despite styling himself as “Dr. Baker 2.0” on Facebook, Baker doesn’t have a medical degree.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology defines autoimmune disease as:

an illness that causes the immune system to produce antibodies that attack normal body tissues. Autoimmune is when your body attacks itself. It sees a part of your body or a process as a disease and tries to combat it

As demonstrated by the quote above, autoimmune diseases result from a misdirected immune response and this is well-understood in the medical community.

One piece of evidence demonstrating this is the presence of certain antibodies in patients with autoimmune diseases that aren’t typically present in people who don’t have an autoimmune disease. For example, people with type 1 diabetes, a condition where the immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, tend to have one or multiple types of antibodies that target the insulin-producing cells, particularly at early stages of the disease[1]. However, these antibodies aren’t typically detected in people without type 1 diabetes.

The same can also be observed in patients with another autoimmune disease called systemic lupus erythematosus, or lupus for short. Lupus is a condition where the immune system may attack multiple parts of the body, including the skin, kidneys, heart, and lungs. Most lupus patients test positive for antinuclear antibodies, which specifically target components of the nucleus, the cell compartment that contains our DNA, while healthy people normally test negative.

What remains a mystery to researchers to this day are the exact triggers that lead the immune system to wrongly target the person’s own cells. Research indicates that there are multiple contributing factors that can make a person more likely to develop an autoimmune disease. As this article by Johns Hopkins University explained, there is “an undeniable role for the genes”:

the concordance rate of a given autoimmune disease in identical twins (typically between 25% and 50%) is about 10 times higher than that in fraternal twins (typically between 2% and 8%). These observations indicate that autoimmune diseases are strongly influenced by the patient’s genes.

Apart from genetics, environmental factors, such as changes in the microbial community that lives in the human body[2] and certain viral infections, are also associated with developing an autoimmune disease[3]. For example, an infection with the Coxsackie B virus, which can cause gastrointestinal illness and inflammation of the heart[4], has been linked to developing type 1 diabetes[5], while Guillain-Barré syndrome is associated with the flu[6].

Baker claimed that vaccines cause autoimmune diseases, alleging that several vaccine ingredients, such as aluminum and thimerosal, are responsible. But he offered no evidence to support his claim.

Researchers have studied whether vaccines are associated with a higher likelihood of developing various autoimmune diseases. The Vaccine Education Center of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia stated, “Numerous studies have examined many different vaccines. To date, none have consistently been shown to cause autoimmune diseases”.

Indeed, several studies didn’t observe a higher incidence of type 1 diabetes in vaccinated people[7-11]. Other studies didn’t find an association between the HPV vaccine and different autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis and lupus[12,13].

Baker also claimed that allergies are “somewhat of an autoimmune response”. This isn’t accurate. While both allergies and autoimmunity are a result of abnormal immune responses, autoimmunity is the result of a reaction to the body’s own cells, while allergies are a reaction to foreign matter that is usually harmless, such as pollen.

He also claimed that the COVID-19 vaccine will “change your genes”. This claim was repeatedly made in relation to the RNA vaccines. As explained in this review by Health Feedback, RNA vaccines cannot alter our DNA. RNA from a vaccine would not be able to directly alter our DNA, in part because of the chemical differences between the two nucleic acids. RNA also would not persist long enough to cause autoimmune diseases, which are usually lifelong conditions.

There is also no evidence supporting Baker’s claim that the COVID-19 vaccines were “shown” to cause Bell’s palsy. This Health Feedback review explained that the incidence rate of Bell’s palsy in people who were vaccinated wasn’t higher than in unvaccinated people.

Finally, Baker claimed that vaccines contain aborted fetal tissue and animal cells. This is false. As explained in this Health Feedback review, fetal cell strains and some types of animal cells are required for growing viruses to make certain vaccines. Viruses can only replicate in the presence of living cells. But these cells are removed during the purification process and aren’t present in the vaccines. Furthermore, not all vaccines require the use of cells; notably, the COVID-19 RNA vaccines don’t require cell cultures for growing viruses, although the AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines do.

Baker’s claim that putting “other beings’ DNA” in our body causes autoimmune disease flies in the face of logic. Our bodies come into contact with foreign DNA on a daily basis, whether it is through eating, when we ingest animal and plant material, or even through sexual intercourse. If contact with DNA that isn’t our own is sufficient for causing autoimmunity, as Baker asserted, it would mean that most, if not everyone, would have an autoimmune disease. This obviously isn’t the case: in fact, Baker stated at the beginning of the video that “4% of people in the world have an autoimmune disease”. This figure, which is similar to the estimate reported by the U.S. non-profit National Stem Cell Foundation, disproves his assertion.

REFERENCES



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